Trust and reputation more than technology or pricing are the secret to online success for galleries, reveals a new study carried out for art insurers Hiscox by analysts ArtTactic.
The online art trade 2013 also
shows that an increasing number of people are prepared to spend
£50,000 or more on a single item online without seeing it "in the
The study, published last week, focuses on
the habits of collectors and strategies of galleries in the
Contemporary art market, highlighting a number of factors that
point to the breaking down of resistance to trading even fairly
high-priced items online. In fact, paintings have surpassed prints,
photographs and limited editions in popularity among online buyers
responding in the survey.
Polling the views of 231 buyers, more than
half of whom spend over £75,000 a year on art, as well as 58
international galleries, when it came to buyers ArtTactic found
• 64% had bought art online sight unseen*
with little or no interaction with the dealer;
• 26% of collectors had spent £50,000 or
more on art online, with a quarter of these willing to spend more
than £50,000 on a single item online in future;
• 80% of buyers saw issues of
provenance and authenticity as the main barrier to buying online;
• 65% of buyers saw the reputation of
the seller as equally important.
As far as dealers were concerned:
• 59% of galleries had plans to
implement an e-commerce strategy within 12 months; and
• 89% of galleries regularly sell art
on the basis of a digital image only.
It is perhaps less of a surprise that
selling online is seen as key to engaging younger buyers. Just
under half (43%) of the 25-29 year olds polled had bought art
online sight unseen, with 67% of the same age range saying they
were highly likely to buy art online within the next year. However,
the big spenders online are those aged 45 to 49, more than 40% of
whom have already spent over £50,000 online.
Age No Barrier
Older buyers turn out to be no slouches: 55%
of the over 65s had bought art directly online, with 82% of these
saying they had done so on the basis of a digital image only. A
fifth of them had spent more than £50,000 so far, with 18% saying
they would be willing to spend more than £50,000 on a single
artwork in future.
The survey also showed differences in
behaviour and preferences between the sexes: 70% of men responding
said they had bought art online sight unseen compared to 55% of
women. Women showed a preference for using gallery websites (52%)
and online galleries (31%), with the respective figures for men at
48% and 22%. On the other hand, men showed a clear preference for
online auctions at 56% compared to only 26% of women.
Whatever the changing habits of buyers,
Hiscox and ArtTactic noted that 78% of galleries polled did not
provide the option for buying solely online with little or no
engagement with the gallery.
"Part of this resistance has to do with the
importance placed on close personal relationships with clients and
the role of the client in the traditional endorsement process of
art," the survey concluded.
It's a view supported by the countless
opinions expressed to ATG over the years that building client
relationships and a solid database of contacts is essential to the
ongoing success of any dealership.
The recent debate on our Letters and News
pages (see ATG Nos 2078 and 2079) shows how strongly these views
are held, with leading Mayfair dealer Richard Green saying:
"Technology is surely a tool which can widen our audience and
possibilities, but it does not replace the first-hand viewing
Other recent trends also indicate the
growing strength of online potential, the survey argues.
These include the increasing number of
super-rich investors in online galleries and other art-based
businesses, especially those who have made their money from online
ventures such as Twitter, LinkedIn and PayPal.
Taking the recent TEFAF report's valuation
of the global art as $56bn, ArtTactic estimated that online
sales across all platforms for 2012 were $870m and will rise to
$2.1bn by 2017.
Technology has also enabled artists to cut
out the middle man and sell direct to collectors via online
portals, while the development of online auctions has become one of
the most competitive areas of activity between the world's leading
Despite the growing confidence with
web-based art businesses, ArtTactic note that not being able to
view or handle works directly before buying remains the biggest
hurdle to online purchasing for 79% of buyers polled. Almost half
(48%) still prefer to visit a bricks-and-mortar gallery to buy if
they have the option to do so.
Although it is not at the top of their list,
technology and pricing are still important factors, the former
vital in the rendering of artworks, including their colours,
Even where galleries are largely using
online exhibitions for marketing purposes only, with clients then
visiting the gallery or completing purchases via the phone, they
expect more business to be conducted solely online in future.
* For the purposes of the survey sight
unseen means acquiring the work without seeing the physical object.
The purchase is based on a digital view only.